Defending the Fatherless Through the Call of Adoption
About the Guest
On today's broadcast, John Fuller, Vice President of Broadcasting with Focus on the Family, talks with Dennis Rainey about the adoption of his youngest son, Zane. Hear him tell about the God-sized moments forever etched in his memory.
John Fuller talks about the adoption of his youngest son, Zane.
Defending the Fatherless Through the Call of Adoption
John: It was March of 2004, and I took my oldest son with me, and we had a great trip – it was a long trip. Eastern Russia is where we ended up. Vladivostoka City, a military city that only opened up to Westerners and foreigners back in the early '90s.
We walked in, and walked down the hall, and we ended up going up to the little waiting room, and they brought him out. He was this little peanut of a kid. I got very emotional at seeing him. It was a very special moment to meet him and then to say "Goodbye, little guy. I'll come back."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 12th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll hear about the return trip John Fuller made to Vladivostok and about when Zane became a Fuller on today's program.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. This is one of those weeks where you probably ought to have some Kleenex nearby, and you ought to be strapped in and ready, because it's going to be a powerful week.
Dennis: We're going near the heart of God. He has a heart for orphans, and we've caught a bit of His heard and have the privilege of – well, maybe delivering His passion and how He feels about those who are fatherless to our listeners.
And, Bob, I think this is more than mere radio. This is a challenge heart-to-heart to really encourage our listeners to ask the question – would God have you do something and, if so, what is that? What is your action step for you and perhaps you and your spouse or your family and, maybe even a larger scale, maybe for your church? What should you do about this crisis that we have worldwide of so many children who do not have a father, who are without family?
Bob: And we're going to hear some adoption stories this week, but we don't presume that everyone's action point is adoption, right?
Dennis: That's right, but we do presume that all of us practice pure and undefiled religion. James said this is pure and undefiled religion, that we would visit "the widow and the orphan in their distress," and I think in American churches today, we are in need of a good dose of getting close to orphans. I think it will do us as much good or perhaps more than we do for the orphan.
Bob: Well, we're not the only ones you're going to hear talking about this subject this week. Our friends at Crown Financial Ministries are going to be talking about it, our friends at Focus on the Family are looking at this subject this week. In fact, there's a group of more than 75 different organizations that have joined together to represent the cry of the orphan.
Dennis: And, Bob, several hundred churches. I mean, there's a growing movement of churches that have taken ownership for how they can address the needs of orphans, too.
Bob: And today we're going to hear from an adoptive father. Last year when we got together with Dr. Dobson; Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family; you and Barbara were in that room; I was there; John Fuller was there, and we looked around the room, and I was the only one that either hadn't been adopted or hadn't adopted a child, because you guys had, Dr. Dobson had, Jim Daly is adopted, and John Fuller is an adoptive father.
And so we had a chance to sit down and get some of the details about the decision his family came to in adopting a son, and we got a chance to hear some of that story.
Bob: [from audiotape.] Had adoption been something on your heart from the beginning?
John: From the beginning?
Dennis: Like when you were a little boy, did you think about …
John: No, although my younger sister is adopted, and I remember to this day sitting in the front seat, between my parents, my mom on my right, holding my little sister, and I was so pleased. I was six years old, I was so pleased to have a sister that I slept under her crib for a few days. I would just go in there, look at her, and crawl under the crib and go to sleep.
Dennis: Did you go with your parents to pick her up?
John: I did, yeah.
Dennis: Where did they …
John: It was in Central Wisconsin, and we went over to Marshfield, and, like I said, I remember the sun coming in the car, I remember the joy that we had – had another child, and so I can't say that made me want to adopt, but it certainly gave me a perspective on adoption that this is a good thing.
Bob: When do you remember adoption coming on the radar screen in your marriage for the first time?
John: Yeah, yeah, it was – it actually started before the word "adoption" came up. We had five children, and I was loading them up to go out to the car to go to church, and I stood at the front door, and I held it open, and it's not like we have this orderly family. Normally, it's chaos, but I'm counting. In my mind, I’m just kind of going one, two – and people that don't have four or five kids don't always understand that but sometimes we just have to kind of count and make sure we have them all.
Bob: We get them all, yeah.
John: And, one, okay five, and I paused and I looked down at the ground, and I looked up again, and I thought, "Is that all? Just five? It feels like somebody's missing." And I couldn't really explain it, but I told my wife about that.
Dennis: Let me stop you for a second there. Just as you were telling that story, I detected profound emotion.
John: Oh, yeah. It was more than just a casual thought. It wasn't that I said, "Oh, well, we need to go out and adopt." But there was a sense of the Lord tapping me on the shoulder saying, "You're right. That's not enough. There is more." And it was a couple of months after that that my wife came to me and did something that every God-fearing man really gets troubled by. She said, "Honey, I've been praying."
Dennis: Or one of your children come – that's another.
John: "Daddy, I've been praying" – that's the Steven Curtis Chapman story, isn't it? She said, "I've been praying, and I've been wrestling with God, and I think He wants me to go to an orphanage and just hold babies or something," and she's got this wonderful, deep, nurturing heart, and I said, "That is marvelous. You're at home with these five kids, homeschooling them, and you don't get out a whole lot, and your ministry is in the trenches, and sometimes you worry about is this making a difference? So I'm very happy for you to go to Romania or someplace." And I said, "Let's figure out when."
And about a month later we hadn't quite figured it all out yet, we had made some inquiries.
Dennis: Now, did this happen immediately after looking down …
John: Within a couple of months, yeah.
Dennis: Did you tell your wife about that?
John: I did, and she smiled, but I don't know if that started her prayer. I don't think it did. I think her prayer really was more of a heart for children who need a home – kids who are being abused, neglected, abandoned. She wrestles with God about that. "Why don't you do something?"
And one day she just got really upset about something she had read or heard about a child being abandoned and abused, and she got pretty convicted about that, and so she thought maybe it was just to go offer comfort to some children; didn't think of adopting at that point.
But she came back sometime later and said, "Well, I think the Lord's telling us to do more than just me go hold babies."
Dennis: Hold babies.
John: Yeah, and I didn't resist that. I had to say "Let's pray about that." I've heard several people say you've got to be called to adopt because it can be a rocky road, and if you don't go in convinced that God is leading you to do that, then when you have troubles what are you going to say?
Dennis: Was there any fear in your heart as she came to you at that point? I mean, a lot of men, when their wives approach them around this subject, they do hit that panic button, that fear button and go, "Man, what does this mean?"
John: No, Dennis, you know, I've told a lot of folks that after the third child, chaos was in the home, what's another one, and so four came and then five came, and it's just busy, and there's always a mess, and there's never enough food, and there's never enough free time, and so we had kind of dealt with the numbers issue, and I didn't worry too much about what that might mean there.
Financially, I've just kind of decided that if the Lord gives a child, He provides, and it may not be everything I want, but He does give the provision, and so I didn't go there. I really just looked at her and said, "That's interesting. Let's – yeah, I'm open to praying about that."
And so we prayed.
Bob: Tell me about the process from, "Okay, I'm open to praying about it," to we have a new baby in our home.
John: Yeah. Well, it was a little convoluted because we really felt that Romania was where we needed to adopt from. We really felt that God was leading us to that difficult country, which, for a number of years, had been closed to foreign adoptions, and there was talk back then of the moratorium being lifted, and so my wife is task-oriented, and she just kind of put everything aside, and we blitzed through the paperwork process and got everything in expecting that within three to four months we'd have a baby – a toddler, at the time, is what we were thinking.
And it didn't happen, and so Easter 2003 rolled around and nothing. And then it was summer and nothing. And we kind of kept praying and saying, "Lord, when are You going to open up Romania for us?" And in November our agency called and said, "We just had somebody come back from Romania. It's not going to open up. It's going to be years, and you're going to have to go somewhere else."
Well, we have five kids, so we can't go to China. You know, we're limited now to whatever the agency works with, whatever country the agency works with. We went to Russia, and re-submitted the entire dossier so – an inch and a half stack of paperwork just kind of set aside for Romania. The agency worked with us on the country fees, which had already been paid, which they just ate for us and several other families. We blitzed it. In about four weeks' time, we did everything.
And then in January we started getting some referrals.
Dennis: Now, before you go to that, I want to make a comment because I think for a couple who have never stepped out in faith, this is big faith time. I mean, to adopt a child, to graft a child into your family, this is a big deal. I've seen, repeatedly, the same kind of story you've told where the dream dies, or the vision perishes or evaporates, and our faith is tested.
And what I like about your story was you didn't stop at the point where your faith was tested and pulled back and say, "Well, it must not be the will of God." You kept stepping forward, and that's what faith does. Faith continues to act. God can close the doors, He could have closed the doors in Russia for you, couldn't He?"
John: Without a doubt, and, you're right, Dennis, again, we just obeyed, and we really felt that we had to go forward on this process. Now, along the way, during that long summer of waiting and then the fall and the disappointing news, our children were also praying. And so, as a family, we were saying, "Lord, lead us to the right child for our family."
I was very perplexed when the first dossier full of information about a child came to our home. I was very excited, and I thought, "This is it. She'll say yes to the first child we get. What mom isn't going to say yes after waiting so long?" But she said "No, I don't think that's the child for us." And that was so puzzling, but I couldn't force it. I've lived with my wife long enough to know that she hears the Lord better than me. I better pay attention here, and if her mommy heart doesn't say yes, then so be it.
And another referral came, and another referral came, and I kept saying, "What's the deal?" But then the fourth referral came, and she said, "Well, maybe." And this was a little guy that we had not – you take a chance with any child, and in Russia and the Eastern European countries, fetal alcohol syndrome is a very high probability. We were open to minor medical conditions that were correctable. We didn't think we could assume a child that had severe physical needs. We just – our house couldn't handle that, and we didn't see the resources to change anything.
But we prayed for about two weeks for this little guy, and he was born premature, and our hearts just really went out to him. At seven months old, the video showed that he couldn't even really lift his head up. It just kind of bobbed there a little bit when he could – very weak.
So we said "Yes," and that started the process of getting ready for that eventual day when you get to the meet the child, and in Russia you have to go once, meet the child, sign papers, and then come back a month later.
Dennis: Take us to the orphanage and to that day when you met your son.
John: It was March of 2004, and I took my oldest son, who was 15 at the time, and we had a great trip – it was a long trip. Eastern Russia is where we ended up adopting from – Vladivostok, which is opposite San Francisco. So we flew Los Angeles to Seoul and into Vladivostok, a military city that only opened up to Westerners and foreigners back in the early '90s, a very interesting place.
We drive up, and this building looks like it was inner city '50s and hasn't really been touched since, and it's a hospital. The halls were bare bulbs hanging down and flat paint that needed to be replaced, and we ended up going up to the little waiting room, and they brought him out. He was this little peanut of a kid that just didn't interact a whole lot, but he had this green stuff behind his ears because he had some sort of skin condition they couldn't get under control, and they painted this stuff on him, and he was cute as could be.
My job was to, a, get to know him a little bit and bond with him however much I could and, b, get some video for Mom, because she was going to have to wait another month to see him, at least. I got very emotional at seeing him. I've become a tender daddy. I wasn't always, so maybe you guys were right from the get-go, but I'd hang around my wife quite a bit to really start to develop a tenderness for my kids, and it was a very special moment to meet him and then to meet him several days in a row before having to say "Goodbye, little guy. I'll come back."
Dennis: There's really two – I don't know how to describe them, but I've seen videos of these things. There's two God-sized moments. One is when they place the baby in your arms. Did you have someone taking a video of that?
John: My son did take some video. I don't remember if we got that first moment or not, but I do know that I've got that first moment of this little guy going into his mother's arms, and I cry every time I see it.
Dennis: The second God-sized moment is when you get off the plane, and there is the walking through the jet bridge, and there's the kids, and you join them either at the gate or beyond security, and that's a chill bump moment, isn't it?
John: I hear it is. It didn't happen for us, Dennis.
Dennis: It didn't happen to you?
John: No, no, we ended up flying into Denver and getting into the airport about 11:30 or 12, so we didn't get home until 1:30, 2:00 in the morning. So, no, we didn't have that moment. We did have a lot of kids padding out of bed, saying, "Is he home? Can we see him? Where is he?"
And this is the child they've been praying for. They'd spent a year and a half, almost, praying, "Lord, bring us the right little brother or sister," and so he was the answer to a lot of prayers, and they were very, very excited to see him. Of course, at nine months old, he wasn't real responsive, but they were very pleased to see him.
Bob: You work with 1,000 people at Focus, right? Does it seem to you like more and more people, their hearts are opening to adoption?
John: I am really excited, Bob, about what I'm seeing within the church, really excited. I've taken a personal interest in adoption because of our own journey of adoption, and what I see right now is I think this explosion of caring for orphans, of saying, "You know, it's all through Scripture – the fatherless are important to God, and we are called to care for them."
And whether that means adopting or going out an meeting with them and doing, as my wife thought we were being called to do – just going out and offering a cup of cold water and a hug. I think we're going to see something within the body of Christ that says, "That's not a side issue. That's a central tenet of what we do."
And it's not a social Gospel, per se, it's part of the Gospel that we've ignored.
Dennis: It's the heart of God. He is a God of adoption. I mean, He adopted us, and then He calls us, as His followers, to care for the orphan and the widow in their distress. So, to me, it's our DNA as followers of Jesus Christ.
John: I would agree with you on that, Dennis, and it's exciting, and it's a step of faith, to go back to that phrase, that I have enjoyed so much. It's been hard, really hard, but I can't imagine the Lord getting my attention and teaching me what He's teaching me right now, any other way. I'm sure He can. He's the King, He can do whatever He wants, but He has used adoption in my life to stretch and challenge and push and pull and cleanse.
And that's just me. I'm receiving a great benefit. Here is a little boy who was going to sit in an orphanage. Because of his special needs, he probably would have stayed in that orphanage until he was 15 or 16, and then they would have turned this special needs kid who doesn't relate to people well, who has some learning disabilities, who has some tendencies that are pretty anti-social, who has no sense of family, no sense of belonging, they're going to turn him out on the street and say "Go be a productive Russian citizen."
Dennis: If he lived to be a teenager. He might have died of a broken heart.
John: I could believe that.
Dennis: Without that care.
John: I can believe that. So it's not that we rescued this boy, it's that the Lord said, "He is for your family, and let's go." But I think, I think a lot of Christians are starting to say, "Okay, there is something a little countercultural about this in that I'm paying a lot of money to bring this child home" if I do an international adoption. "I'm going through a lot of steps and hoops if it's a foster care adoption. I’m going to have to spend my vacation and my money to go over there to do this work in the orphanage."
I think Christians are starting to get it, though, that when Jesus says "Lay your life down," that's part of it.
Dennis: To that person who is listening right now, maybe it's a mom, maybe it's a dad, maybe it's a couple who are infertile and can't have children, could you give them a charge concerning the will of God and adoption?
John: Well, the Scriptures are replete with stories and illustrations of God's heart for those who don't have a father, those who are abandoned, those kids. I would challenge you to just ask Him, "What do you have for me in this?" Just say, "Lord, I don't know, you may not be calling me to adoption, you might be, but I feel a need to find out more." Ask him what He has for you and how He would have you discharge that command to care for those, to care for the least of these. You can make a difference for one. Just go hold one child. Just reach out and touch, put your hands on one orphan and maybe that's all the Lord has for you. It will change that life in a positive way. It will change yours. Maybe He has more for you. Ask Him.
Bob: Well, we've been listening again today with an interview with John Fuller from Focus on the Family, and I should just mention for our listeners, we just heard a portion of the interview today. The entire interview is available on CD. You can go to FamilyLife.com and request a copy of the CD, or you can receive it as a podcast, and the entire version is available as a podcast as well. But folks ought to listen to the whole story because it is a great story, and John's a great guy.
Dennis: He is a great guy, and I just want to turn to our listeners right now and say what's your part? And just challenge you, you know what? Do something. Go to FamilyLife.com, click on the link that we have there to find out more either through Hope for Orphans, our ministry outreach to orphans, or Cry of the Orphan, which is a campaign joined by hundreds of churches and 75 organizations, and just ask God the question – "What would you have me do?"
Then you know what? I'd do it.
Bob: Yes, and we want to help you figure that out. In fact, we've got an orphan care resource kit that we're sending out this week to any of our listeners who can make a donation of any amount to FamilyLife Today. We want to get this in as many hands as possible. So all you have to do is call and request it, and we're just asking that you would make a donation of some kind to FamilyLife Today, whatever you can do.
And what we'll send you is a kit that includes how to start an orphan ministry in your church; information on adoption, in case that's something you're considering or want to consider; there's a DVD from Dennis and Barbara Rainey on the priority of caring for orphans. This is something you could view yourselves or share with others, if you'd like.
We'll send these resources out to you, again, when you call to request them at 1-800-FLTODAY, or when you go online at FamilyLife.com click the red button that you see in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about how you can receive this resource and, again, all we're asking is that you would make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
When it comes to the keycode box on the donation form, we just ask that you type the word "orphan" in there – o-r-p-h-a-n, and that way we'll know to send you this resource kit, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone, and you can request the orphan care resource kit that we're happy to send out to you.
Now, tomorrow, we're going to be joined by Dr. Michael Easley from Moody Bible Institute, and we're going to hear how he and his wife, Cindy, made their decision to become adoptive parents, and they'll share that story tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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